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OCA's Running Man Theatre Company Creates a Unique Theatrical Experience for People With Special Needs

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OCA's Running Man Theatre Company Creates a Unique Theatrical Experience for People With Special Needs

Central Florida campers with special needs have been participating in OCA's Theater Week for 10 years, but with Covid-19 and the demands of social distancing, the leadership team considered cancelling Theater Week. OCA, which stands for Opportunity, Community, Ability, has had such success with the program that they formed a year-round acting troupe for special needs actors, Running Man Theatre Company. Each summer production brings new challenges and this year's "Much Ado About OCA" was to be no different-until everything was different.

"We create an original show for 200 campers that one of our actors writes with the support of a theater professional," said Executive Director Silvia Haas. "This year, we were concerned that we just couldn't get it done and meet all the needs for social distancing in a large production."

Enter Marianne DiQuattro, the artistic director of OCA's Running Man Theatre Company, and a Rollins College theater professor. "In March, I was thrown into the deep end of online teaching with every other theater professor in the country," said DiQuattro. She quickly made the decision that if typical students could take theater online, so could the kids at Running Man.

Working with OCA participant Brooke McKay, DiQuattro and her Rollins students developed a comedy starring Shakespearean characters who find their plots interrupted by Executive Director Silvia Haas, in a hilarious extended cameo. Through the month of July company members, ages 15-30, rehearsed with a web program on computers, tablets and phones from their homes-with the goal of filming their performances together.

Following CDC guidelines and social distancing, DiQuattro has managed to create a film set, and even add authentic costumes. In year's past, actors wore camp t-shirts with homemade costume pieces but this year campers are wearing Shakespearean-style costumes from Rollins College's Theater Department wardrobe. Actors had individual appointments for costume fittings and filmed the scenes on location at OCA. On set, the actors and crew wore masks and maintained a six-foot distance, then at 'action' actors removed their masks and were filmed performing the scene.

Adapting to meet the challenges caused by Covid-19 has brought a number of wins for the group. DiQuattro and Haas agree that the real costumes and on-set filming is giving actors a new performance energy. With the change from a one-time-only event to an online video, not only will more people be able to see the show, but more campers are able to participate. Individuals who have never been onstage now have the opportunity to be involved in the technical elements -like running a teleprompter.

"Isolation is a real problem for our kids and during the quarantine it was important for us to find ways to connect safely," said Haas. "By filming the show, we've been able to keep the connection that Theater Week develops and provide an incredible experience for everyone involved."

"Much Ado About OCA" will premier online Friday, July 31, 2020 at 2 p.m. on OCA's Facebook page and YouTube Channel. For more information visit GoOCA.org.


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